Monday, 21 June 2010

Dustin Johnson Rues the Rules


Having just scored a triple-bogey on the 2nd hole of his final round in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach yesterday, the tournament leader, Dustin Johnson, then went and hit his tee shot into a dense area of undergrowth around a water hazard on the 3rd hole. Unfortunately, although it was likely that his ball had finished within the margin of the water hazard, the circumstances did not meet the strict requirement of the Rules for it to be “known or virtually certain” that it was, as apparently no-one had witnessed where his ball came to rest. For example, it could have bounced back off a tree into the rough at the side of the hazard. The importance of this lack of certainty is that as the ball was not found Johnson had to treat it as lost and return to the teeing ground to play under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 27-1), whereas, if it was known to be in the water hazard, he could have dropped a ball under Rule 26-1b or 1c, for a penalty of one stroke, probably very close to where his ball had crossed the margin of that hazard. To make matters (much) worse his ball was then found inside the hazard, but not until 5 minutes and 19 seconds from when search for it had commenced, as timed by the Rules Official following him and his partner, Graeme McDowell, the eventual winner of this  major tournament. Under the definition of ‘lost ball’ one of the conditions is that;
“A ball is deemed lost if: a) it is not found or identified as his by the player within five minutes after the player’s side or his or their caddies have begun to search for it.”
For more on the subject of ‘lost ball’ see my earlier blog here.

Johnson went on to double-bogey the third hole. Those 19 seconds almost certainly cost him at least one stroke. He then bogeyed the 4th hole to go 6-over for probably the four most important golf holes of his life. He ended with a fourth round score of 82, tied for 8th place.

What is the situation if a player does play his ball; even though it was found more than five minutes after search for it had begun? Decision 27/8 explains;
"Q. A player searches for his ball for five minutes and does not find it. He continues to search, finds the ball and plays it. What is the ruling?
A. The ball was lost and therefore out of play when the five-minute period allowed for search expired — see Definitions of "Ball in Play" and "Lost Ball." When the player played a stroke with a ball out of play, he played a wrong ball — see Definition of "Wrong Ball" — and incurred a penalty of loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play — Rule 15-3. In stroke play, he was disqualified if he did not correct the error by proceeding under Rule 27-1 before playing from the next tee — Rule 15-3b."
Sincerest congratulations to Graeme McDowell, from Northern Ireland on being the first European to win the US Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970. His agent, Conor Ridge, is a member of my own Golf Club in Dublin and Graeme was very good in coming to visit us a little while back, in particular spending time with our juniors. He seems a really nice guy as well as being an amusing, down to earth character. And by the way, his name should be pronounced mic-doo-uhl. Commentators please note!

Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes

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Michael Green said...

Thanks Barry. It was a tough final round for Dustin and a horror 3rd hole. Nice to know the rule if a player plays a ball after the alloted 5mins.

It's a tough one to police during regular club competitions. It would be harsh to turn to your playing partner and say, 'sorry, your five minutes was up'.

Barry Rhodes said...


I agree. Some years ago, after giving up search for a fellow competitor's ball, another player and I holed out. He then found his ball and started to address it. I told him that his five minutes expired some minutes ago and he replied, "Oh, we don't play that Rule here"!